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Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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Although Duane wasn't presented as the leader of the band, somehow there was no doubt that he was in charge. I can't really explain why, but that was my clear sense. He introduced the songs, but, as far as I remember, he hardly interacted with the audience. Although Gregg sang, he rarely spoke. Berry Oakley, however, was quite animated and did interact with the audience at times. At one point, he pointed out Duane and Gregg's mother in the front row and asked the crowd to give her a big hand, which we willingly did—I think he called her Mama Allman.

Those are my distinct memories of that night. Other than that, much of the concert is fused into a shadowy composite of impressions. I remember how they looked on stage, how they behaved, how they sounded, and strangely how it felt—by that I mean feeling the power of the sound vibrations, a sensation that is beyond my ability to describe. I wish I could replay those solos in my mind, but they are by nature spontaneous and ephemeral. It is like waking up and trying desperately to recall details of a vivid dream. They are there, but frustratingly just beyond reach. Yet in a strange way, I'm glad this was prior to the invention of cell phone video and YouTube. There is simply no substitute for experiencing music live, and you can't capture that kind of magic. Moreover, there is a danger that with time the limited inferior copy will gradually replace the actual memory. That memory might be incomplete, but I cherish it.

Because I didn't know all the music prior to the concert, I can't be sure of every song they played that night, but of these I am sure: "Statesboro Blues," "Done Somebody Wrong," "Trouble No More," "You Don't Love Me," "In Memory of Elisabeth Reed," "Don't Keep Me Wondering," "Dreams," "Stormy Monday," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "Whipping Post." There were a few more, and from old set lists I could probably guess which they were, but it would only be a guess.

When the house lights came back up, the dreamlike atmosphere vanished as the audience made its way to the exits. The concert had been an overwhelming experience that I couldn't quite process. I had considered the Allman Brothers Band just another local band that had managed to cut an album —I wasn't even aware of their local hero status in Georgia, or that they were gaining fans in several major metropolitan areas. Yet my ordered musical universe had been thrown into chaos. This wasn't simply a matter of adding a new band to my list of favorites, it was instead the realization that in terms of rock music, I had just experienced something that was markedly superior to anything I had ever experienced—with one possible exception.

My buddy smiled and tapped me on the arm, "Didn't I tell you!?!" Indeed he had, and as I agreed with him, I heard my own voice as if someone else were talking—empty platitudes were all I could muster. I didn't want to wake up from this dream like state, so I begged off and drove down South Atlantic Avenue and parked at the first motel that afforded a view of the ocean. I watched the waves come in with "Liz Reed" and "You Don't Love Me" replaying in my mind.

As I thought about it, the only other experience that had come close to this was seeing Santana perform "Soul Sacrifice" on the big screen in the Woodstock documentary film. When I saw the film, they too were complete unknowns to me, but their soulful honesty, intensity, infectious rhythm, unique sound, inspired playing, and obvious dedication to the music set them apart, and they blew me away.

There were obvious similarities between the original Santana Band and the Allman Brothers Band: Duane Allman and Carlos Santana were exceptional guitarist whose playing seemed preternaturally inspired, each had an impressive and unmistakable sound, spot-on tone, and a compelling musical vision. Each band had multiple drummers, and a Hammond B3 player who sang lead vocals. Decades later I would learn they had even more in common—both had been heavily influenced by Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

In 1997 Robert Palmer, saxophonist and music critic, wrote the liner notes to the Legacy/ re-release of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. To demonstrate its impact and influence on the music world, he used the example of Duane Allman. Anyone who does not understand why Duane Allman has been covered so extensively on All About Jazz can read it for an answer. Palmer had met him in New York City in 1965 when Duane was there with the Hourglass. He had played John Coltrane's Olé for Duane and noted that he had been fascinated by it.





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